Why economic growth should not be about turning productive land into buildings

With Africa fast becoming the world’s centre of economic gravity due to its natural resources, it should re-define economic growth. Growth is not about building sky scrapers or turning productive land into residential areas. In addition to food production, African countries should define growth as purifying indigenous knowledge systems into excellence that can be exported to other parts of the world.  Prime land should be devoted to the production of nutritious food systems that are becoming scarce globally.

A case for strong economic succession pathways

There is no doubt that Africa is going to grow food for the whole world irrespective of threats from climate change. Consequently, the bulk of African land should be a powerful economic resource for future generations. However, value and growth can only be fully unlocked if African countries invest in valuing their resources and knowledge toward becoming champions for the new global economy.

African agriculture is largely being driven by informal markets within which are found micro, small, medium and large scale actors. Since these are within the same ecosystem, there is need another layer in the form of a market that could be a spring-board for new markets like processing and export. Agricultural policies should look at succession issues within vibrant markets that are driving African economies. SMEs are in the same scenario – there are micro, small, medium and large actors mainly in terms of knowledge but their succession is constrained by lack of pathways like land and supportive policies.  While much of the land in peri-urban areas and growth points is being given to residential housing land developers, SMEs do not have land for industrial growth. Unless these issues are addressed, African countries cannot build home-grown economies and solutions. 

Micro, small, medium and large enterprises are just labels

At policy level African countries have not developed proper definitions and strategies which show graduation pathways from micro to small, then to medium and so on, with supporting infrastructure and services all the way to large scale. Doing that would lay the foundation for synergies with value chains. For instance, the micro level can be linked with communal farmers trying to process commodities at household level. The small will be clustered with a group of farmers at the subsistence and semi-commercial levels while medium will work with farmers who have wholesaling potential for feeding into bigger wholesalers.  Medium scale can focus on medium scale farmers while large enterprises can do final finishing and packaging for export. There has to be a curricular and dialogue with traders on how they can move to the next level. Knowledge within these ecosystems and markets should be carefully captured and shared in ways that prevent loss of momentum and institutional memory.

What forms of storing wealth can sustain a home-grown African economy?

Growth is also about appropriate ways in which the majority of people can store and preserve their wealth. Traditionally livestock was used as the main store of wealth in Africa and, thankfully, some communities like the Masaai in East Africa, have had the wisdom to stick with these important ways of storing wealth. In most parts of Africa, people no longer have traditional stores of wealth the way hupfumi was defined traditionally.  Globalization and modernization has incentivized Africans to use banks as a way of building wealth.  Now that the whole banking system is collapsing and pensioners cannot get their savings, things are falling apart. The use of financial systems like banks as stores of wealth makes sense in stable economies not threatened by climate change and various forms of economic down-turns. 

Limitations of copying succession pathways in formal institutions

Succession pathways followed by formal companies and institutions are tied to treating knowledge as private property. However, this has serious limitations. For instance, Africa’s banking system does not have succession pathways that support home-grown solutions. International banks do not share succession wisdom with indigenous banks. International banks function more like family trees such that Standard Chartered Bank in an African country shares more knowledge with Standard Chartered Bank UK and not with local banks.

While there is nothing wrong with formal organizations sharing knowledge internally, organizations in the same African context should co-create local solutions. African countries should package local businesses and SMEs into specific pathways anchored on indigenous knowledge systems. International corporations and financial systems are failing to work with African systems because there is so much they do not understand about local knowledge pathways and systems. In African systems, patenting of knowledge has been done through relationships built over decades and expressed through informal markets.

How ca we support these pathways in ways that create space for growth? In terms of systems, African policy makers are still fond of using colonial terms like formalization and registering a business for the purposes of paying tax. Why should money be in the fore-front?  Why not give ownership to business entrepreneurs who already know the right thing to do.  Formalization should mainly be for institutional purposes so that policy makers know where SMEs are operating from as a way of then ensuring specific standards, supporting by systems for collecting and sharing evidence. It should not just be for extracting tax.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Building knowledge driven succession pathways – Lessons from informal markets

The survival of African informal markets is hinged on fluid succession pathways based on indigenous knowledge systems. Old people who inherited trading stalls from their parents smoothly move out of the market after training their children or relatives to take over. Those taking over will have taken years under-studying those retiring and ultimately the old guard moves to the background, leaving young people to run the market. There are clear pathways for young people to take over. The young start as assistant sales person, become a loader (wenhova), then they get their own push carts which they use as mobile market stalls. After some years, the young graduate into full traders who can go out to buy commodities from farming areas or sponsor farmers to produce specific commodities for them. The entire process is a grooming and knowledge-imparting journey, translating to practical wisdom.

The curse of structural unemployment

On the other hand, if you read the jobs section of most newspapers in both developed and developing countries, you can see the extent to which the formal world is in a succession crisis. When job descriptions mention the need for someone with a masters degree or PhD plus more than 10 years’ experience, you can automatically see that these are not opportunities for people below 45 years. Unfortunately, this is contributing to structural unemployment among youths.

Absence of clear succession pathways is an enduring challenge for communities, development organizations, governments and private companies in both the global North and South.  One thing holding African governments back is that old people in leadership have become too tired and devoid of ideas. You cannot talk about performance-based achievements for people whose performance has reached its ceiling. When someone is a board chairperson of a company, the next thing is to retire. You cannot expect a 70 year old board chairperson to plan for the company’s future unless young people are broad on board. A 70 year old cannot see or imagine what the company or country will look like in the next 10 to 20 years. 

Recognition for laying the foundation

There is no doubt that in African the old guard has laid a strong foundation for innovation in the form of availing land to the majority, in the case of Zimbabwe. Without a strong foundation every innovation remains a prototype which will not be able to go anywhere or answer specific needs. In addition to wisdom from the old guard, there is definite need for creating spaces where young people can innovate with water, soil and natural resources that are part of the foundation. African academic institutions have not been able to innovate meaningfully because, besides lacking space, they depend too much on imported knowledge which they are failing to contextualize for home-grown economies.

The power of succession planning

Developing countries need succession in terms of knowledge and innovations. Youth empowerment should not just be a buzzword. Succession planning should be taken seriously beyond personalities but also into institutions. There should be pathways through which old knowledge such as proven scientific excellence support young people to venture into the unknown and explore new knowledge-driven opportunities. Young innovators should only come back to elders for wisdom of the past.

When pathways of converting institutional memory into investment opportunities are missing, countries and organizations create structural unemployment against young people who should be taking over the running of institutions into the future. Where the heck does a young innovative person fresh from college get a PhD and 10 years’ experience? Development organizations are notorious for putting such advertisements which they use to ring-fence positions in favor of old people who have been moving from one organization to the other at the expense of fresh energy and blood.

Succession is also about setting up knowledge hubs in communities where future generations can get information and guidance in cases where the old generation is no longer available. When farmers do not have a succession plan that ensures consistent supply of surplus commodities, markets end up crossing the border looking for food which should be produced locally. Consumers need food irrespective of its source, so succession planning at production level is a fundamental national issue.

Succession in formal industries

Succession planning is also missing in the formal industrial sector across Africa. For instance, Zimbabwe has a few bakeries with no clear succession pathways in terms of what happens if they run out of ideas to respond to changing consumer tastes. It is the same case in the industrial cooking oil processing sector where a few old processing plants are now struggling to meet the needs of the increasing population. Succession is also about replacing old machinery. This is affecting fertilizer manufacturing, still stuck in antiquated equipment and brains. A critical question developing countries should be asking themselves is: How do we grow succession pathways for local economies and industries starting from SMEs?

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

If development agencies were investors most rural areas would be towns by now

If development organizations and NGOs were investors, districts like Buhera, Binga, Chimanimani, Insiza and many others in Zimbabwe would be towns by now. The same can be said for several rural areas in whose name millions of United States dollars have been spent in most African countries. Each rural county or district has received not less than 10 development interventions over the past 10 to 20 years. But whose mandate is it to develop rural business models? For instance, is it the role of NGOs to develop cattle, piggery and poultry business models when the private sector should be doing so?

Absence of role definition and investment in evidence

In the absence of a clear definition of roles, the above questions cannot be easily answered. An additional question is how much of the information collected by development agencies can be turned into investment opportunities?  Information that is collected through rapid assessments for quickly responding to calls for proposals is not useful to investors who are more interested in trends showing investment opportunities. Unfortunately most of the information focuses on a few wards in a district or districts in a province. Lack of fluid information gathering systems does not only limit investments.

Humanitarian NGOs that want to rebuild livelihoods after cyclones or floods find it difficult to know who had how many assets like cattle when the cyclone struck, what was the volume of food in the community households and how much food was flowing to markets from the community before the disaster? As a result, recovery interventions end up based on assumption of what existed. If people are going to be compensated, where is the basis and how are we going to start when everybody has become vulnerable? The intervention is focusing on recovery from what and how can investors come in? The existence of an information gathering and sharing system would show the direction in which the community was growing prior to the disaster. It would also be easy to retrieve data on different actors and production patterns.

This is the main reason why national statistical agencies should be present at grassroots

Instead of concentrating in capital cities, there are good reasons why each African country’s department that deals with statistics should have a presence in rural areas. This will ensure fluid data is collected, processed and availed in the right context. If data collection is more fluid, it becomes an ideal platform for marketing each county, district or local area to investors as they are able to access information online. Such information should show investment opportunities, culture, labor, local expertise, resources and other assets in the local area. Such information should not be scattered within development agencies who are using it as a secret weapon to compete with each other in the same area.

To the extent information and knowledge is power, it is only power when properly gathered, processed and shared.  A fluid data collection and management system is very feasible and just needs the following:

  • Commitment from government and development agencies in providing initial funding for setting up the system.
  • Raising awareness and consciousness among communities and districts about the importance of gathering their own knowledge and information hubs at community level which they can continuously update. This is the genesis of authentic empowerment.
  • Setting up the knowledge and information system.

The power of relevant content

The local platform should gather fluid literature that is more current and relevant. Currently most information platforms across Africa lack appropriate content and clear demand. They also do not have sustainability models as promoters confuse ICTs with knowledge. Ideally, each platform should have a mechanism for people to access knowledge for a fee as part of sustaining its operations.  For instance, academics and universities which already know the value of data and knowledge can subscribe in order to access data and literature reviews, the same way they subscribe to international libraries and journals, most of whose content is irrelevant to the local context. Students doing their research and those on attachment can be trained on processing and managing diverse datasets related to their disciplines. A major challenge for most university students who try to engage with agricultural value chains is failure to get information they will be looking for and end up resorting to stale literature review. 

At the heart of the platform will be ensuring communities and students have access to fresh knowledge not just literature review. Critical content that can be provided include how much was harvested from the local community in the last season, how much was consumed locally and how much was sold, where?  Such data will also help researchers and students to follow the knowledge along value chains and be able to get information all the way from grassroots to national level. At provincial level they can get information on all the districts. Schools can also subscribe to the knowledge hub and access information through their agriculture teachers instead of depending on books written decades ago. Students in livestock areas should get real-time information relating to livestock populations and conditions in their communities. That way, a culture of appreciating and valuing local resources will be instilled in youths.

Knowledge exchange between agriculture and health departments

The platform will enable health institutions to get real-time information on nutrition issues affecting different communities. For instance, local clinics are currently more famous for providing drugs, maternity issues, tablets and injections but do not have information on the local population’s nutrition status which has a significant bearing on local health. Statistics on crops and livestock in a community can alert health personnel to the nutrition condition of a community. If data shows too much production of leafy vegetables at the expense of other crops that contribute to a balanced nutrition, it is a powerful signal for nutritionists to generate the correct advice in liaison with government extension departments.  The department of roads and Civil Protection Unit can be called into action once information on bridges and roads that are in a poor state is collected and quickly shared.

Fluid information should flow frequently and aggregated by platform administrators. This is the kind of modernization that should be supported by governments and development organizations if they want to be relevant in solving real issues. People in the diaspora with a strong feeling and resources to build their communities from wherever they are should be able to use the knowledge platform without passing through government structures in which corruption is endemic. It is retrogressive to have some organizations selectively promoting their own pieces of projects in vast communities with enormous potential. African countries cannot continue to stage-manage community development through demonstration plots and field days which are conducted by one in more than 3000 farmers. This is not representative of the entire community’s potential.

Technology without appropriate content is a waste of resources

Most of the knowledge-based challenges affecting African countries cannot be solved by drones. Knowledge is largely a social and emotional issue than technological. Fluid information gathering requires active, reliable and timely information sources not technology gadgets. For instance, a technology system that does not link producers with diverse markets is not useful even if the producers can be highly productive. Farmers, traders and other value chain actors should interact freely without being wedged to a single mobile network operator. Most communities discuss their issues either as individuals or villages and should decide how to use their knowledge and where to send their information.

In the current era of fake news, the capacity to sift correct knowledge from fake news is fundamental. Ensuring every farmer has a mobile phone is half the story if farmers are not able to tap into streams of processed insights. That is why administrators are important in filtering knowledge so that farmers and many people do not get lost in the sea of information. Instead of trying to solve challenges directly, development agencies should build the capacity of government extension to gather and process information into appropriate decision-making knowledge. The role of extension officers will switch to become more of responding to emerging issues and questions than pushing information to farmers who are also being spammed by mobile service providers.

Aggregation starts with aggregating statistics in terms of what is available and what is needed in different markets followed by aggregation of physical commodities into proper grades and specifications. Several markets can be connected with the local knowledge hub in ways that extend knowledge about aggregation, quality, production calendars and many other aspects. Ultimately the platform will play a key role in organizing local production and linking the county or district with the world. The local knowledge hub or platform can also become a source for the media.  Economic commentators on how economic policies are affecting ordinary people at the grassroots can be identified and accessed through the hub.  At the moment, most economic commentators quoted by the media are based in the capital city and have no clue about what is happening in rural communities.

Rather than leaving communities hanging, after three to five years, development organizations should hand over to the local platform all the information, lessons and networks built over the course of the project. That is where investors can go to find details about opportunities in the county or district –what was tried, failures, successes and emerging opportunities.

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

African home-grown economies have their own unique indicators

Convergence between formal and informal African economies has become fertile ground for building home-grown economies that have unique indicators. Cities are platforms for such convergence because they are conduits through which Western knowledge flows into Africa via coasts, air transport and communication systems. While African countries are obsessed with marketing tourist sites like game reserves and natural wonders like the Victoria Falls, they are not tapping into fluid knowledge in the form of culture and values that are quietly being traded in cities between imported and local knowledge.

How coping strategies influence economic indicators

African home-grown economic indicators are influenced by the fact that most of the economies are still closely linked to natural resources. To that end economic circumstances cannot be adequately expressed in terms of imported indicators like employment and unemployment levels. On the contrary, they focus on individual and community ownership of assets related to agriculture and natural resources as key indicators of economic growth or sustainability. If employment or unemployment levels were a correct indicator of economic growth or stagnation, the over 90% unemployment being mentioned for countries like Zimbabwe would have meant the country is no longer function.

That is why Africa needs home-grown economists who can come up with new, relevant definitions of employment and unemployment. Such efforts would assist in shedding light on how cities like Harare and Nairobi with informal businesses and SMEs constituting more than 80% are surviving with high levels of so-called “unemployment”. How can a city with 96% unemployment continue functioning?  In rural areas, drought or disasters like floods would probably account for such levels of incapacity. A 96% disability is not realistic because it’s close to complete shut-down. How is that possible? Instead of depending on imported theories and textbooks, home-grown economists should generate valuation systems that can assist communities to fully know the value of their natural resources. All African communities value what individuals have as a business. You cannot teach entrepreneurship to people who are already practicing different forms of entrepreneurship.

eMKambo recently met a Masaai livestock herder/owner in Masaai Mara grasslands of Kenya. Oiling his gun, the herder said after obtaining a Masters degree at Jomo Kenyatta University he decided to go back and connect with cattle production which he grew up doing, thanks to his grand-parents. With an amazing air of contentment, the herder narrated a recent story in which business people from Nairobi were bringing vehicles to him persuading him to exchange five of his cattle with a Toyota Prado. “What would I use the Prado for?  I am more rich and satisfied with my cattle,” he said with a knowing smile. The Masaai gentlemen is an example of a home-grown economic agent able assess and value his wealth differently.

Imported terminologies do not adequately explain African economies

The Masaai are satisfied with their wealth.  African SMEs are surviving within the so-called 90% unemployment level. Rather than use imported terminologies to value African wealth, African think tanks and universities should generate new valuation knowledge that speaks to local contexts. Such knowledge should guide policy review and remove Africans’ inferiority complexes about their knowledge which is limiting capacity to exploit African comparative advantages based on ownership of natural resources.

Why do African countries agree to measure their poverty datum line using a dollar a day when the majority do not use dollars? African countries should be using social indicators like depression or erosion of values among communities whose relatives are migrating to the diaspora in response to economic down turns. Another indicator should be related to knowledge and information. The extent to which an increase in the cost of communication has become a barrier to knowledge and information sharing is a powerful socio-economic indicator in African economies. A related indicator is how increases in transport costs are leading to the break-down of social fabrics as urban dwellers no longer visit their relatives in rural areas to replenish their knowledge, norms, values and wisdom. The roots of an indigenous home-grown economy are directly linked to social not economic factors.

What happens if African countries stop using foreign currency to value their economies?

African countries have embraced imported western knowledge as if they did not their own knowledge before colonization. Many ordinary people in Africa have never stopped wondering why African governments are allowing their natural resources and food systems to be valued and priced using United States Dollars.  If China wants tobacco from Zimbabwe while Zimbabwe needs machinery and fertilizer from China, why is it not possible for these commodities be exchanged directly without the United States Dollar coming in between?

The value of the tobacco can be easily agreed up and same with the value of the machinery or fertilizer without any money exchanging hands. The same notion can be extended to minerals. Whoever wants African gold should bring what is needed in Africa, with the commodities simply exchanged. As opposed to African countries converting their commodities to foreign currency before buying what is needed from importers of African commodities, those in need of tobacco and minerals should be the ones bringing foreign currency where it is needed but commodities of equivalent value should suffice.

Why is globalization silent about knowledge?

Global trade emphasizes free trade areas and selling of commodities but knowledge is not considered part of the economic and commodity focus. How is knowledge traded as part of global trade just like commercial trade of goods and services?  There are no specific avenues and vehicles for tracking knowledge trading between countries and commodities.  International economic development practice uses indicators like employment creation, income levels and population growth, excluding knowledge as an indicator or component of economic growth.  There has to be more appropriate definitions of an economy in the African sense without continued use of adopted definitions of the economy and economic growth from borrowed and imported knowledge. It is very important and urgent to start developing African home-grown economic indicators that do not just consider economics but embraces social indicators such as culture, tradition and the whole society. All this has its own growth paths from rural to urban areas.

Challenges with domesticating technology

Lack of attention to home-grown indicators has increased African challenges around the adoption of technology. The Western and imported notion of trading platforms was meant for trading commodities without using cash but some corporates in African countries like Zimbabwe have abused platforms by using them for trading money. Had African countries developed their own platforms they would have embedded software to, for instance, modernize barter trade which has proven to be more resilient in all economies across the globe. 

Ethical deployment of technology platform should anchor African mass markets which creatively combine barter trade with modern transaction modes.  This is how authentic commodity exchanges can be created and anchored in technology in ways that create networks for facilitating commodities to find each other and transact with no need for money. Communities should then be educated about the fact that by clamoring for cash they are burdening themselves when all they need is to know their needs first.  If money is for buying commodities and services, why not bring those commodities and services together and eliminating the need for cash and middlemen who are abusing platforms?

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430